Instead of concentrating on issues, policies and voting records, today’s voters seem increasingly interested in another part of a candidate’s background— the biography.
Was the candidate a war hero? Did he fight social injustice? Did he run a successful company? Was she a housewife who raised four kids, put herself through law school and now helps inner-city youths with her own non-profit organization?
Interesting people — those with backgrounds and careers started outside the political realm — have always made attractive candidates. However, until recently, their lack of experience in public office was always a liability. Not any more.
Jesse Ventura’s surprise election in Minnesota in 1998 proved people are willing to look beyond mainstream political candidates and give those with unique backgrounds a try. In Nevada, Oscar Goodman’s election as mayor of Las Vegas was a similar event.
Both candidates had little or no experience in elected office. Both enjoyed success in career fields unrelated to those traditionally suited for grooming politicians. And the two men were extremely outspoken, not afraid to say exactly what they felt. They were embraced by a public tired of sound bites, polls and broken promises.
As we look at the upcoming 2000 elections, expect to see more candidates such as these two on the campaign trail. There are already several to choose from in the race to replace President Bill Clinton. The success of Arizona Senator John McCain and former Senator Bill Bradley — both outspoken men who have impressive “biographies” — is certainly attributable to this new phenomenon.
People like the fact that McCain has already shown poise and perseverance under pressure. You have to have a little something extra to survive the years of torture McCain endured as a Vietnam prisoner of war. Bradley, a successful professional basketball player, knows how to compete and has raised serious questions as to whether Vice President Al Gore will easily win the Democratic nomination.
Both men, along with several others, are waging campaigns that essentially attack the current political establishment. And voters, tired of career politicians, government shutdowns and constant infighting, are listening.
In Nevada, expect to see numerous candidates jumping on this anti-establishment bandwagon. Also expect to see voters looking closely at what candidates did before they decided to seek elective office.
There’s a lot to be said for experience in office. Some of the most effective politicians are those who have learned to navigate the layers and layers of bureaucracy inherent in government. They consistently deliver for their constituents and should not be turned out because someone with a more interesting biography shows up on Election Day.
However, politicians who have been collecting dust and not doing the job, better watch out. Just because voters elected you once, doesn’t mean they’re willing to do it again. Especially if someone with a more impressive résumé happens along.
News on the local campaign front should start picking up steam with the turning of the New Year. At the end of 1999 news was a bit slow, but a few interesting tidbits did surface over the holiday season.
Governor Kenny Guinn’s capable and connected chief of staff, Pete Ernaut, resigned his position to accept a post on John Ensign’s campaign for U.S. Senate. This move gave Ensign something his campaigns have needed ever since his first successful election — someone with local knowledge and relationships with the state’s top movers and decision makers.
Ernaut engineered Guinn’s successful election effort in 1998, and will probably bring many of the players that made that election so successful back in to help his new boss. In addition, his contacts in Northern Nevada are solid. Ed Bernstein, the Democrat looking to challenge Ensign, has offices in Reno and Tahoe and also advertises in these areas, so name recognition will not be a problem. But Ernaut’s intimate knowledge of the people and the terrain will definitely give Ensign an edge.
Congressional challenger Jon Porter also named a campaign manager — Josh Griffin. Griffin worked on Guinn’s campaign and has handled several races, all in Northern Nevada. He has moved into Southern Nevada and will start trying to energize Porter’s forces.